Dating After TBI…

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Introduction: 

As an 18-year TBI survivor and I am blessed to say that I was able to get married after my injury, and we have been married for almost 12 years!  She was aware that I sustained a TBI from a motorcycle accident.  While she did not get the opportunity to see me at my worst, she met me when I was walking with an AFO and a single cane.   On our first date, she ‘claims’ I minimized my injury because I did not tell her I was walking with a cane.   I figured that since all TBI end-users are like snowflakes, she should not get a ‘visual’ after telling her I had a brain injury.  Fortunately, my wife has watched me make a bunch of improvements. She has also seen my crazy emotions, learned of my need to be comforted, and a little bit of my ‘convenient’ forgetfulness.  

I actually glad we met after my accident because I am not sure if we could have made it through all of the changes.  Speaking of dealing with brain injury for partners, here is something I found in the UK about how brain injury affects partners:

How brain injury affects partners

Partners can often be affected if their spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend sustains a brain injury, as it can be very upsetting and frightening to have a loved one in hospital. In addition to this, they often have a good understanding of the personality, habits and emotions of their partner before the injury, and are therefore often aware of how their partner has changed afterwards.

The injury can also cause many practical changes to the couple’s life, which can have an overall effect on the relationship itself. Below are some of the common ways in which this can happen. 

  • Changes in communication – a brain injury survivor might have problems with word finding, comprehension or speech production. They might also struggle with understanding and using non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions. Day-to-day discussions can become difficult, as it might take them more time and effort to make themselves understood.
  • Changes in personality – many survivors report feeling like a new person after their injury, which is often also noticed by their partner. The partner may feel that they are no longer in a relationship with the person they initially chose to be with.  Some partners even describe the brain injury survivor as becoming a stranger. Survivors themselves might also experience effects that alter their own feelings towards their partner and the relationship.
  • Changes in intimacy – intimacy can be described as an emotional, physical and psychological closeness between two people that is often accompanied by romantic feelings. It can be affected if, for instance, the survivor has a lack of insight or anger problems.
  • Changes in behaviour – socially inappropriate behaviour, such as swearing or making inappropriate comments in public, can cause partners to feel embarrassed, frustrated or saddened. A survivor might also make sexually inappropriate remarks to others, which can be particularly upsetting or embarrassing for partners.
  • Changes in cognitive ability – cognitive (thinking) skills are commonly affected after brain injury. Problems with attention, multi-tasking and decision making can also cause practical and emotional challenges in the relationship.
  • Practical changes – the survivor might be unable to work or drive after their injury. As a result, various aspects of life might need to be readjusted to accommodate for such changes. There might also be a change in the type of activities or pace of activities that the couple can partake in together. A survivor might also be unable to work, which can cause difficulties if the couple was previously on a joint income.
  • Role changes – practical changes can cause roles to change, for instance the non-injured partner might need to take on new responsibilities that the survivor previously did, such as managing household finances. This can be stressful for the non-injured partner, and affect the survivor’s self-esteem.

Adjustment to changes in life following a brain injury can be difficult for both the survivor and their partner. In addition to this, partners are often left with little or no support, despite often having to take on caring responsibilities. These changes can typically cause feelings of isolation, longing for the past and sadness. Acceptance for the new way of life can, however, set in over time, especially if the survivor continues to recovery or learns coping strategies to regain their independence. Indeed, some relationships strengthen over time as the couple learn new ways of managing the effects of the injury and their relationship.

You may be wondering how did I meet my wife?  I actually met her online, which was unconventional in 2007, but it was probably the best situation for us at the time!  I was initially afraid to put myself out there on the internet to be viewed and browsed like I was a piece of merchandise.  But to my surprise, online dating gave me a head start on evaluating my options.  Here, I was able to see how candidates looked, what they did in their spare time, their occupations, or if they had kids before communicating with anyone.   I know learning all of this is a part of the process, but can you imagine how much more you can learn when you know this basic information?  This also allows you to be as secretive as possible because you are only communicating on the site’s messaging app.  When you are confident with your outward appearance, you can decide to take your interactions from the messaging app to a cell or LAN line phone call.

I had memory problems after my accident in 2003.   I had forgot specific details about my life.  I was going with the flow!  If you were visiting and you brought positive vibes, flowers, a card, or something sweet to eat, you were welcomed!  I did not have time for character evaluations, I was trying to get my life back!

After completing rehab, I continued making steps that made me feel ‘normal’ again.  During this time, I was focused on my outward appearance (walking and speaking) and I was also able to find a job.  After working a few months and getting back to a normal work schedule, I figured I was ready to start dating again.   I knew my options and opportunities were going to be different and knew I would not be able to hangout like I had previously.  I needed to find someone who could not compare ‘my new normal’ to the ‘pre-accident me.’   I needed someone who would be empathetic, not condescending, and helped to motivate me.  

This was when I started looking at dating websites.   I started looking at sites at the direction of one of my fraternity brothers, but I ended up at blacksingles.com.  Online dating is different compared to dating normally.  It is more secretive but it requires one to come out of their shell to meet people from all over the internet!  

It was hard getting started because I was not sure what sure what people saw when they looked at me.  Even though I saw myself as an outgoing person who was comfortable meeting new people, what did people think when they saw me limping when I walked?  Did people look at me differently when they heard me talk?  Could people see that I had brain injury?  When I looked in the mirror, I did not see a brain injured man.  Would my brain injury be a turn off?  Could I attract anyone with my picture?

First thing was first, I had to find a good picture of myself and some words to describe me and curious about me.  Fortunately, the only visible scar on me was from my trachea, which could be hidden if I wore a button up shirt buttoned to the top.   I guess I was misleading myself, but I didn’t think I looked like I was brain injured, so I did not put brain injury on my profile.  I did not want to scare anyone away, and I figured if I was able to attract someone, I did not want them to prejudge me.  I wanted to attract someone by the words in my profile, instead of my looks.  Looking at other people’s profile, I guessed people used other people’s picture on their profile, and I thought that was misleading.  I know I mentioned this previously, but I did not mention my brain injury because I thought we are all snowflakes and come in different sizes, shapes, and colors.  Plus, I did not want people to focus on the physical me, but the one you could connect with mentally!  Finally, I also made sure people knew that I had faith in God, and my educational achievements.  

Conclusion:

I did not meet my wife until 2007, which was 4 years post-TBI.  This was enough time to learn about my limitations and to learn adaptive techniques to get by my limitations.  Dating was extremely hard after my injury.  I did not want to be around a lot of people, so I was not comfortable going out to a club or bar.  I was not comfortable walking and I felt being out would put me and my gait pattern on display!  

While I was trying to feel ‘normal’, I felt I was under the critical eye of everyone.  Even though I got lucky and met my soulmate, I want everyone to not give up on finding your helpmate!  They are out there, but I want everyone to be safe!  I want all of our decisions moving forward to be positive, if possible.  Here are some tips that you might want to consider dating online or in person:

Staying Safe – Top Tips

Safety concerns can often put people off from starting new relationships following brain
injury. But taking precautions, and asking for support, can increase your confidence and
keep you safe.

  • Be careful to not share too much information, such as your address or personal details, before you get to know and trust someone new.
  • When meeting someone new for the first time, do so in a public place and tell a friend or family member where you’re going, and who you’re meeting.
  • Take it slow! If you feel you’re not in control of the speed of the relationship, be sure to tell a friend or someone you trust who can support you.
  • Don’t feel pressured to tell people about the effects of your brain injury if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so.

MEDIAmaker. “Dating after Brain Injury | Headway.” Headway – the Brain Injury Association | Headway, https://www.headway.org.uk/about-brain-injury/individuals/brain-injury-and-me/dating-after-brain-injury/. Accessed 1 June 2021.

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